Which Cisco certification should I get?


When it comes to getting a technical certification, not only does it require a serious investment in both time and money, but you’ve got options--and a lot of them. Cisco certifications are no different; there are also numerous paths to choose from. Cisco alone offers several different certifications depending on your professional interests and abilities, so choosing wisely is one of the more difficult, but important decisions you can make for your technology career.

So how do you get Cisco certification? In this post, we’ll focus on Cisco’s Routing and Switching (R&S) options. But before we dive in, keep in mind that whichever path you choose, it’s vital to assess your goals from the start. What exactly do you hope to accomplish? What responsibilities do you have right now? What would you like to be doing in the near future? Which skills would you like to validate? Once you can answer these questions without hesitation you’ll have the foundation you need to make the best possible decision. 

CCT certification

The Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) is one of two entry-level certifications offered by Cisco, the other being the CCENT, which we’ll discuss next. This certification offers a level of knowledge that’s useful to a centralized network engineer when working with a remote engineer, allowing them to focus on their specific job.

Who should get a CCT certification?
The CCT certification primarily focuses on individuals who plan to be—or who are currently supporting—Cisco devices, typically with the support of some upper-layer engineering support. The primary audience includes those who have some technical experience and want get into networking.  Common job titles might include onsite support technicians, field support technicians or remote network support.   

Which skills will the CCT certification validate?
This certification will give you a solid base of Cisco/Networking knowledge before moving into the next level CCENT/CCNA certifications. The skills required to pass this exam are broken into four domains including Identify Cisco Equipment and Related Hardware, Describe Cisco IOS Software Operation, General Networking Knowledge and Service Related Knowledge.

What do I need to know before I take the CCT exam?
To achieve the CCT (R&S) certification you must study for and pass the Certified Cisco Certified Technician Routing & Switching (640-692) exam. This certification is heavy on operational knowledge (the CCT level addresses how to identify and work with the equipment), whereas the next level CCENT and CCNA certifications will begin to address why and how to configure something in a specific way.

How does the CCT certification benefit your team? 
As an IT manager, you’ll want team members to have the CCT certification for a couple of reasons. First, this certification is a requirement for any business working directly with Cisco as a support provider for TAC operations. Second, the CCT certification allows entry-level employees with little networking experience to become familiar with basic Cisco equipment and operations.

Learn more: Get the complete CCT certification guide.


CCNA certification

The Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) is the second Cisco entry-level certification. The CCENT’s objectives require that you understand a diverse number of networking fundamentals and configuration commands. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) includes the knowledge gained with the CCENT and adds to it with more complexity and feature depth. CCNA’s are generally junior-level network engineers that work under more experienced engineers to build on their knowledge.

Who should get the CCNA certification?
The CCENT is great if you want to do more than just field work (CCT), as it will allow you to support, configure and troubleshoot networks on your own. Candidates for the CCNA certification are typically split into two different groups: those with no initial network experience, and those with a solid base of networking experience but with no previous Cisco certifications.

Which skills will the CCNA certification validate?
The CCNA certification builds on the core knowledge covered in the CCENT and adds to it by covering the CCENT material in more detail, adding several advanced topics. The CCENT and CCNA certifications are used as a benchmark certification for many different companies to determine a minimum level of Cisco networking knowledge. The skills required to pass the CCENT are broken into five domains including Network Fundamentals, LAN Switching Fundamentals, Routing Fundamentals, Infrastructure Services and Infrastructure Maintenance.

What do I need to know before I take the CCNA exam?
To achieve the CCENT certification, you must study for and pass the Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 (ICND1) (100-105) exam. The CCENT (ICND1) has a considerable amount of coverage in networking fundamentals both for routing and switching (compared with the CCT). It also looks at how different devices can be configured, and how they should work once configured correctly.

To achieve the CCNA (R&S) certification you must study for and pass either both the ICND1 (100-105) and ICND2 (200-105) exams or the single Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) (200-125) exam.   The skills required to pass ICND2 exam are broken into five domains including LAN Switching Technologies, Routing Technologies, WAN technologies, Infrastructure Services and Infrastructure Maintenance.

How does the CCNA certification benefit your team?
As an IT manager, you'll want your team members to have the CCNA certification for at least two big reasons. First, it allows you to validate their knowledge; employees who are able to successfully achieve their CCNA have proven that they are familiar with many of Cisco’s technologies and features. Second, it allows employees to track their own progress in the networking field and build on it.

Learn more: Get the complete CCNA certification guide.

CCNP certification

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is the next level above CCNA and requires that you understand a large number of different technologies and features to a much greater depth. This is expected at the CCNA level. CCNPs typically act as senior-level network engineers in a number of different environments. The CCNP can serve as a team leader who guides junior-level network engineers on their tasks or as a solo engineer working on a variety of different technologies/devices.

Who should get a CCNP certification?
If you’re like most people looking to obtain their CCNP, you already have an existing CCNA and the desire to extend your knowledge on a variety of different routing and switching technologies. People with this certification typically hold the title of network engineer, senior network engineer or systems engineer and would be tasked with configuring, supporting and troubleshooting a vast number of different devices, protocols and features.

Which skills will the CCNP certification validate?
The skills required to pass this CCNP exam are broken into six domains including Network Principles, Layer 2 Technologies, Layer 3 Technologies, VPN Technologies, Infrastructure Security and Infrastructure Services.

What do I need to know before I take the CCNP exam?
Completing the CCNP is often considered harder than the CCIE written exam because of the depth of knowledge required in each covered technology. The CCNP requires that you take and pass three different exams: Implementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE); Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH); Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks (TSHOOT). Each of these focuses on a specific subset of the knowledge that allows you to highlight your CCNP training.

How does the CCNP certification benefit your team?
As an IT manager, you’ll want team members to have the CCNP certification for a few reasons. First, as with the CCNA, it allows you to validate the skills of your technical team members. Second, as with most sought-after certifications, it allows employees to have a sense of accomplishment. Third, it ensures an additional level of technical knowledge within your team; the added depth between the earlier certifications and the CCNP is considerable and highly useful for future projects. 

Learn more: Get the complete CCNP certification guide.

CCIE certification

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) builds on the objectives learned at the CCNP level and adds some depth in specific features, as well as coverage on a number of different features that are not covered in much detail in previous tracks. Candidates looking to become the most knowledgeable on the covered objectives seek out and become CCIE’s. This journey is expensive and each candidate must determine from their goals whether having the CCIE credential will help in obtaining their specific career goals.

Who should get a CCIE certification?
The CCIE is the top of Cisco’s Routing and Switching pyramid and is awarded to those who have proven to have an expert level of knowledge on a variety of different features and devices. From a high-level perspective, the CCIE certification takes the requirements needed to obtain the CCNP and adds additional depth and, at times, some additional width in coverage. CCIE’s typically have titles like senior network engineer, network architect or principal network engineer.

Which skills will the CCIE certification validate?
The CCIE itself is intended to be used as a measure of an individual level of knowledge in the specific subjects noted in the objectives. As Cisco defines it, CCIEs are those who have the necessary skills to plan, test, deploy, configure, maintain, and troubleshoot Cisco network solutions.

What do I need to know before I take the CCIE exam?
The CCIE is unlike the CCNP because it doesn’t have any prerequisites. To obtain the CCIE you must take and pass two different exams: The CCIE Routing and Switching Written Exam (400-101) and the CCIE Routing and Switching Lab Exam. The CCIE written exam is a proctored computer-based version, just like the CCT, CCNA and CCNP. But the CCIE lab is a practical one and requires you to travel to a Cisco lab exam facility. Here are a few Pluralsight courses that can help prep you for the CCIE exam.

How does the CCIE certification benefit your team?
As an IT manager, you’ll want team members to have the CCIE certification for a few reasons. First, as we’ve seen with the earlier certifications, it allows you to validate your employee’s knowledge and increase their sense of accomplishment. Second, it adds considerable depth to an employee's knowledge including an additional level of comfort. This is because the employee must pass a written test and must prove themselves in a practical exam administered by Cisco.

Learn more: Get the complete CCIE certification guide.

Cisco certifications takeaway

Of all of the certifications that exist in the networking space, Cisco’s are by far the most popular. These credentials are universally recognized and can be used increase your knowledge and boost your career. Additionally, tech certifications, like Cisco certs, are a no-brainer employee benefit to keep talent on your IT team, and these certs can be helpful for managers during the interview process. As we’ve seen, when selecting a path, there are numerous choices depending on your background and existing knowledge of Cisco equipment, features and operating system (IOS).

For more info on each specific certification including requirements and objectives, check out the following in-depth Cisco study guides:

CCT certification guide

CCNA certification guide

CCNP certification guide

CCIE certification guide

Happy studying!


Sean Wilkins

Sean Wilkins is an accomplished networking consultant who has been in the IT field for more than 20 years, working with several large enterprises. He is a writer for infoDispersion and his educational accomplishments include: a Master’s of Science in Information Technology with a focus in Network Architecture and Design, and a Master’s of Science in Organizational Management. Sean holds certifications with Cisco (CCNP/CCDP), Microsoft (MCSE) and CompTIA (A+ and Network+).